January 6, 2016 (3:55 PM ET)
There are two NBA picks tonight.
1) Take Portland Blazers at +4 spread against LA Clippers for 3% of the bankroll.
The LA Clippers have been one of the hottest teams in the league heading into this contest at the Moda Center. They come in on a 6-game winning streak after blowing out the Philadelphia 76ers by over 30 points last time out! What has arguably been most impressive with the Clippers has not been that they have been winning ball games, but that they have been doing so without their All-Star power forward, Blake Griffin! There is no doubt that the Clippers had a lot of momentum heading into the New Year, but momentum does not carry over after extended layoffs. Momentum requires constant movement and rhythm in order to keep it going. The fact that Clippers have not played a game since Jan 2nd puts them at a disavantage tonight. Especially since that game turned out to be almost an exhibition against the worst team in the league! It means that they have been sitting on the sidelines, likely 'cooling off' as it often happens when not playing for awhile.
Another factor is that having won 6 straight games, the players will no doubt be pleased with themselves. They will therefore not only be physically somewhat 'rusty' and out of rhythm from a lack of full game speed action but they will mentally be complacent. They could be overlooking the Trail Blazers after beating them by double-digits last time they faced them and feeling they can get away with a less than 100% effort, something that is very rarely true at NBA level. Some of these players have already shown their propensity to take nights off and with a less than hectic schedule over the holiday season, a few may be lacking the intensity and energy that earns teams wins. The Blazers on the other hand are on normal rest meainng they are neither tired nor rusty and will be looking for revenge. They also realize that with Blake Griffin sidelined, they don't lack physicality at the forward positions and this is their opportunity to seize.
The absence of Griffin has not hurt the Clippers yet but we believe tonight could be the night where they realize how much he is missed as they'll find it difficult to win this game without him on the floor. The Clippers are lacking quality at the Forward positions and we feel that Al-Farouq Aminu could take advantage of that and post an impressive stat-line. He is a highly energetic forward that can do a little bit of everything but often flies under the radar and is hardly a household name. Damian Lillard is back in the rotation as well after missing some time and was somewhat rusty in his return on Monday night. With a full game that saw him have extended minutes, back under his belt, we expect him to have a better performance tonight. CJ McCollum will likely be a bigger factor at the guard position however as he's been Portland's best player this season and is playing with an exceptional amount of confidence at the moment. He and Lillard form one of the highest scoring backfield duos in the league while Mason Plumlee's athletic play at the 5 spot brings the Blazers some much needed size and physicality.
While a lot of the attention has been on the Clippers and their current winning streak, it's important to note that the Blazers have quietly won 4 of their last 6 games as well. What we believe will be an important factor tonight is that the Blazers are coming off not only a loss, but a home loss at in Moda Center in their last contest. The Blazers do enjoy good home-court advantage as evident by their winning record there and it is no secret that the Moda Center can be a daunting place for visiting teams to play. With the high profile Los Angeles Clippers coming to town, we wouldn't be surprised to see Portland fans cheer even louder tonight. The Blazers will be out to atone for their recent home defeat and should be extremely motivated in this contest. We wouldn't be surprised if the Clippers come out of the gate slow and play a bit 'flat' tonight having spent the last few days relaxing with friends and families. The Blazers should challenge them for the outright victory tonight which means the 4 points that they are spotted could prove very precious at the end of the game, especially considering that the underdogs are 5-1 ATS in the last 6 meetings! This is a tougher spot for the Clippers than it looks at first glance and while the betting public is hammering LA, it wouldn't surprise us to see Terry Stotts' grab the outright win or at least keep this close.
2) Take Detroit Pistons at +3 spread against Boston Celtics for 3% of the bankroll.
These two teams currently occupy the final two East playoff positions sitting at 7th and 8th in the conference respectively! Their first 2 meetings of the season were highly entertaining to watch and this one is likely to be as well as the sides change leads and go on runs. Reggie Jackson and the Pistons got the better of Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics on the 16th of December in a game that was settled in overtime! However, then just 10 days later, the C's got their revenge winning in Motown. It's worth noting that the Celtics have dropped 5 of their last 7 games at the Garden and actually own a much better record away from home this season! It's time for Stan van Gundy's Pistons to deliver payback and we believe they are primed to do that for two different reasons!
As if Jackson and his size advantage over Thomas and company was not already a tough matchup for Boston to handle, Brandon Jennings is back! The former starting PG is back from a lenghty layoff and has participated in the last 4 games, slowly rounding into form and getting back to NBA game speed after a stint in the D-League. Jennings is a point-guard that is capable of starting games for playoff contending teams and the fact that he and Jackson will share the workload dictating the tempo of this offense is like battling a two-headed monster. Both have their own unique attributes that make them hard to guard and to make matters worse, Avery Bradley who is arguably Boston's best defender, certainly when it comes to guarding smaller players continues to be out with an injury. Bradley may not have lit up the scoreboard in the two prior games against Pistons but he did an effective job limiting Caldwell-Pope and company. Marcus Smart is a solid defender but can be overzealous and temperamental at times and is not as established or as much a leader as Avery Bradley. Meanwhile Evan Turner is a good offensive player but leaves a lot to be desired defensively. In short, we believe Brad Stevens' crew will have a tough time keeping tabs on the Detroit guards as Jennings, Jackson and Caldwell-Pope can all present problems both via driving to the basket or from beyond the arc through 3-point shooting.
The fact that Detroit has the leading NBA rebounder on the court is another fact that makes them a tough team to guard. That's because Andre Drummond gives them second chance opportunities via offensive boards while providing a genuine rim protector and shot blocker, something that the Celtics lack. He's not able to shoot the 3-ball like Boston bigs, Sullinger and Olynik can but he does have a sizable advantage against them in the post and should help Detroit own the rebounding edge! Drummond leads the Eastern Conference with 30 double-doubles this season and has averaged 19 points and 17 rebounds against the Celtics in his last 9 matchups against them! To say he's been a constant thorn in their side would be an understatement.
The Pistons will be solely focused on the task at hand tonight but the same can't be said about the Celtics. That's because as much as Boston would like to win this game, they will have the national spotlight on them on TNT tomorrow night when they visit Chicago to take on Jimmy Butler and the Bulls! Playing in back to back games means the coaching staff may choose to limit the minutes of certain players in order to keep them fresh for tomorrow. Isaiah Thomas for example is a game-time decision tonight with a thumb sprain and while we expect him to feature, he may not be at his best or on the court for as long as he normally would be. Detroit's next game is in 3 days however on the 9th of January which means they can play their key stars as many minutes as they like tonight. Their only objective is to get revenge and clinch a W against the team they're currently chasing. At just half a game behind, the Pistons can overtake the Celtics with a victory and it wouldn't surprise us if they managed that. Reggie Jackson is 4-0 in visits to Boston and should help Detroit get another win or at least keep it very close where the game is decided on the final possession of the game.
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